In Praise Of Zip-Off Pants

As a kid, I thought zip-off pants were rad. For a Transformers-loving lad like myself, the ability to convert pants into shorts at a moment’s notice was nothing short of revolutionary. I rocked them in an air-conditioned 3rd grade classroom—but when the bell rang and recess arrived, I yanked at the stealthy zippers and was instantly ready for kickball. I felt like freakin’ Optimus Prime. 

But something happened as I hit puberty in the angsty hallways of high school: the magical brand of functionality I so cherished as an elementary schooler faded. To my chagrin those rad zip-off pants, my classmates made clear, were now considered nerdy.

I’m sad to admit that, for a time, I was swayed by the social pressures of my narrow-minded pant- or short-wearing peers. As a teenager, I momentarily relegated zip-off pants to the bottom of my dresser. Though, to be fair, I didn’t know whether I should hide them in my pant drawer or my short drawer.

Thankfully, I survived the gauntlet, graduated high school and moved to Colorado for college, where fast weather changes and a non-judgmental and adventurous outdoor community rekindled my love for 2-in-1 zip-off pants. A hike that started in the sun could easily end in hail or snow and vice versa. Being prepared for the unexpected became infinitely more important to me than being perceived as cool. And the funny thing about perception is this: it changes. The more I wore zip-off pants on cool adventures in cool Colorado with cool people, the cooler I perceived my zip-off pants to be, and the less I worried about what other people thought about my choice of trousers.

If you’re an outdoor lover, you’re probably no stranger to wearing or seeing zip-off pants out on the trail, or on travelers in faraway exotic destinations—but I believe it’s the ability to confidently rock zip-off pants in everyday life—at the bar, at work, navigating high school hallways, etc.,—that society has conditioned us into believing impossible. That said, allow me to not-so-humbly list a few of the not-so-outdoorsy things I’ve done since I rediscovered the stylish functionality of zip-off pants.

In my zip-off pants, I have:
• met with religious leaders and politicians in El Salvador
• interviewed coffee farmers in Guatemala
• gone clubbing with beautiful women in Nicaragua
• partaken in Ramadan celebrations in Morocco
• eaten at a Michelin Star restaurant in Spain

When living out of a backpack for a month or two or simply spending a weekend in the woods, the space-saving benefits of zip-off pants are obvious. Why bring two when one will do? But beyond this basic gram-counting argument for zip-off pants, I’ve come to appreciate their style as well.

Try as they might, zip-off pant manufacturers can’t quite hide the fact that a zipper circumnavigates the knee. But I’m not sure I want to hide that zipper. I’m proud of it. That knee-high crease suggests that at the drop of a hat, I’ll be dropping my pant legs. It’s a conversation-starter—and then some. There’s an element of danger, of preparedness, of versatility. It’s a pity that Armani doesn’t make zip-off pants, because I think it’s obvious James Bond would thwart infinitely more international crime syndicates if he had a bit more air flow on his calves.

But designer brands don’t make zip-off pants, at least as far as I know, and while I think they look damn good, I don’t believe zip-off pants will be a runway staple for the mainstream fashion world anytime soon. Instead, zip-off pants will be reserved for the adventurous, the forward-thinking, the bold and unabashed citizens of the world who believe that nothing, nothing at all, is sexier than utilitarianism.

And, for the record, while I haven’t played kickball at recess in a few years, I still feel like freakin’ Optimus Prime every time I wear my zip-off pants.